Living in Dependence: Some Reflections
The Blessed One established that the Sangha lives in dependence: the bhikkhus and bhikkunis live in dependence on the laymen and laywomen. I think this wisdom came to the Buddha in His Enlightenment, which began when he had exhausted his practice of asceticism, was offered sustinance inspired by compassion, accepted that sustinence out of compassion, and was then able to enter into the meditation in which He experienced Nibbana.
The entirety of the Dhamma can be seen in reflection of these experiences. Not alone, yet alone, yet not not alone. Dependent Origination. Sangha. Liberation at the moment of death, but also in living in dependence. Dana. Promulgation of Dhamma. A bowl of nourishment, not necessarily what one might have chosen, but accepted with gratitude, given freely, accepted quietly, used well for the benefit of all beings.
We are so accustomed to living in dependence, that sometimes I think we miss seeing it as an essential part of the Path. In Buddhist countries, before children can walk, they gain practice from their parents in giving to those living the Holy Life. Early, boys are ordained, and are given robes, food, practical training in the relationships of dependence. It is made habit, which is mostly a blessing for all involved.
In non Buddhist countries, there is also dependence, perhaps of a less spiritually useful kind. In the west, In dependence is hailed as a mark of individual or collective maturity. Interdependence is offered as a mature relationship between independent enties. The ubiquitous non independence of modern life, with our power grids and sanitation systems and supply chains and economies can be ignored… until service interruptions or disenfranchisement happens. We quickly dismiss these as our unusual, isolated experiences rather than face the frightening reality of circumstances.
In east and west, we even distort our perception of kamma, as some ultimate justice… Water runs downhill, in a path explaiable by gravity or chaos theories or complex environmental influencrs. Kamma has no intention. Dukkha has no intention. Neither is a useful boogeyman! That is projection.
A Lord of the Rings quote rises in this mind; I share it with humor and compassion: “But they were all of them deceived. Some things which should not have been forgotten were lost.”
During Buddha’s lifetime, living in dependence was more simple, plain, even stark. Monks and nuns went hungry if the generosity of the lay people ceased. Dana ceased if the monks fell to quarelling. Later, disrobing offenses were punished by deprivation of the requisites in life. Gifts offered in ego aggradisment were refused by the Blessed One even from his stepmother.
dependence for the requisits on the laity was so essential, that the Buddha instituted rather extraordinary discipline in the Holy Life; monastics cannot handle money, cannot make food, cannot make much of anything! What a crazy idea! How would life be sustained, of individuals, of Sangha, of Dhamma?? Yet despite all the passing of time since the Blessed One’s Enlightenment, we today have Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha…
The name of the woman who offered a life sustaining bowl of food to Siddhartha is not preserved. It was not identified as an extraordinary or shocking event, for her to feed a hungry obvious ascetic. But I imagine it took some courage, to offer that bowl, some deep seated generosity and compassion, a strong but quiet ego, to offer that simple meal. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!
The equality of the Sanghas was important. It may have been cloaked to suit prejudicrs of the time, but it is clear in the Vinaya. It seems some of the cloaking has fooled some people, some of the time, even in the worldly sangha. I find this sad, but Mara is tricky, and fools will be fools. I hope thst foolishness can be abandoned as soon as it is recognized as harmful, not coherent with Buddha Dhamma Sangha. But it has to be abandoned voluntarily, it cannot be pried out, such foolishness is slippery and invasive and damningly attractive to our worst aspects.
Dependence is an essential sentient interaction; appropriate understanding of it is beneficial to many beings. In sangha, we ritualize this interaction, as we ritualize taking vows, getting married, naming children; in as much as we see these interactions as important, life sustaining, meaningful, we ritualize occasions of these interactions. That capability or tendency may be the blessing and burden of sentience.
Of course non ritualized occurences of these interactions occur. Thus dependence plays out, in Holy Life, in lay life, in non believers life, even between species in life in this world.
At this point, I have laid the ground for realizations. Traditionally, I might now tell you what to think. What is the point of all this? What is my argument, my proposition, my Truth?
Dearest reader… you must figure that out yourself.
edit for clarity: As must i! But i think you knew that!